Archive for the ‘primate’ Category

squirrel monkeys ride capybaras

At a zoo in Japan.

(From Frans de Waal’s Public Page on Facebook).

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Koko and All Ball


This is sad.

But she did get another kitten.

And named him Lips-Lipstick.

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White-headed capuchin monkeys (Cebus capucinus) do use citrus and other plants to control ectoparasites.

After all, citrus fruit can be used for flea control in domestic dogs and cats, so it makes since that a monkey would try it.

It may not be much of a shock to learn that capuchin monkeys are considered the most intelligent of the New Word primates. Some of these monkeys may have passed the famous mirror test for self awareness. It is very likely, then, that these monkeys have learned this behavior and have passed it along through the generations.


Now, you may know these monkeys a little better than most.

In the US, these animals accompanied organ grinders who trained the monkeys to perform on the street. Because of their association with the street performers, they were once called “organ grinder monkeys.”

Several monkeys make up the genus Cebus, and all are now call capuchins. They are so named for an order of friars called the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. Members of this order wore brown hoods, which looked something like the brown “hooded” fur of these monkeys.


A famous white-headed capuchin of a more recent era was Marcel from the sitcom Friends.



If you’re interested in videos like this, check out NatureBreak.org.

The videos are very well-done, and I particularly liked the videos that featured hellbenders and timber rattlesnakes, creatures that actually can be found in my part of the world (even though they look quite exotic.)

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My grandpa knew the natural world quite well. He spent much of his life in the forest, so much so that he called his life-long education a “Ph.D. in the woods.” He loved to tell stories about his adventures with with the various wild animals he came across.

But none was as interesting as his encounter with a large black monkey. Its species is still a mystery, although I now have some guesses about its exact taxonomy. However, for a few weeks in the 1970’s, this monkey was a major story for a small community in West Virginia.

My grandfather’s work was in a remote area of central West Virginia. Stories often circulated about the region about all sorts of unusual beasts that hid out in one of the last redoubts of wilderness in the Allegheny foothills.

My grandfather worked a well-tender for an oil and natural gas company. He walked the whole ten miles of remote territory during his first decade on the job. Then he purchased a half-wild horse that no one could break, and through his sheer determination, he was able to turn that animal into a decent trail horse.

In those days, the wells produced a lot of gas, and a few of the oil wells gurgled out the black crude. A century before, a vast deposit of oil gushed from the earth. Fortunes great and small were made from the black goo, but by the 1970’s, the oil wells were starting to run dry.

In those days, young hippies had been returning to the land, and some were starting to have second thoughts about trying to live the agrarian lifestyle in land that was already known to be marginal in its agricultural utility. Lots of them released their animals into the forest before they returned to civilization.

Even today, it is not unusual to come across a flock of feral goats on a summer drive along some remote forested lane. These goats were owned by the back to the earth people, some of whom tried to live like the Diggers of 1649 fame. Too bad this land was “waste ground” for a good reason. The people who originally farmed it could make more money selling the mineral rights than they ever could raising stock or growing corn and vegetables. That’s why the land itself was so cheap in those days. However, even those hardy pioneers couldn’t make a go of the land, what made the neo-Diggers think they could do the same? It usually wasn’t long before the collective farms grew only rocks and thorns, and their inhabitants moved on.

However, some of these back to land people had kept exotic pets. There were always reports of “black panthers” slinking through the undergrowth. Supposedly, these were black leopards that had been released into the wild by their naive owners.

Monkeys were often seen, but these animals could never really make it in a cool temperate forest. In those days, squirrel monkeys were all the rage. They were quite difficult to rear in captivity, but they were easily caught in the wild. They were then sent to Florida, where one could easily order one through the mail for very reasonable cost. Never mind that squirrel monkeys are quite difficult to keep in captivity. Never mind that their temperaments are quite plucky, and their wild natures are impossible to remove from them no matter how long their owners try to turn them into pets. It was not unusual for someone to find a squirrel monkey wandering around.

He would have never gotten excited over a squirrel monkey. Everyone knew about squirrel monkeys. One of his friends had trapped a squirrel monkey that chose to sleep with his beagle pack every night, snuggling against the dogs during the cold winter nights.

However, as he rode his horse down the well-worn trail that summer morning, he couldn’t quite believe his eyes. Up ahead was a dark form wandering down a forest path into a clearing. At first he thought it was a mink, but it was too large. However, he had never seen a raccoon that dark before, and it lacked the white-tipped tail of the melanistic red fox. It move with an unusual rocking motion, and unlike other wild animals, it seemed to be approaching the oncoming horse and rider. As he rode a little closer, he realized that he was approaching a rather large black monkey. Its long tail was curled at the end, and its body was rangy and gracile.

Now, he couldn’t quite believe his eyes. He rode the horse a little closer, but knowing how easily this particular horse was spooked, he stopped him about 25 yards short of where the monkey now stood. The monkey stopped and stood on its long, thin hind legs. It studied the man and horse over, and then realizing that they were no threat, it continued on its way.

When he returned to company toolhouse that afternoon, he knew he’d better keep quiet about the monkey. No one would believe him, and heck, he really didn’t believe his own eyes anyway. Surely he hadn’t seen a monkey.

At the toolhouse, the men let off steam, telling bawdy jokes and outright lies about the things they saw. He knew no one would believe he’d seen a big black monkey.

As he sat at his chair eating what he had saved for his lunch, a co-worker stammer through the door. His face was as white as a sheet.

“Boys, you won’t believe what I saw. You wouldn’t guess it in a hundred years!”

My grandpa leaned over and said, “Well, I bet I can. I bet you saw that big black monkey.”

“Yeah, how’d you know?”

“I saw it, too. It was just walking down the road. Just hunchin’ along.”

About fifteen minutes passed, and another co-worker staggered in. He also tried to engage in the guessing game.

“You won’t guess what I just saw. Not in a million years.”

Well, it turned out they did guess correctly that their co-worker had seen the big black monkey.

The story of the great monkey soon spread throughout the town and the little farmhouses that lined the river. As summer turned to autumn, the men began to think about running their hounds. Running hounds in this part of the world is unlike the organized hunts of Britain and the East Coast. Indeed, these events are more about running the hounds. Raccoons and foxes typically aren’t killed when the hounds are released on those crisp, cool nights. It is about letting the dogs run and sipping whiskey around a bonfire with your good friend while you spin a few yarns and brag about the hounds. Not a single red coat or horse will be in sight.

Well, that year, a couple of men took their coonhounds out for a run in that remote area where the monkey had been seen. The dogs caught wind of the strange animal’s trail, and soon ran it into the trees. Now, raccoons and gray foxes will take to the trees to avoid the dogs. They will even jump from tree to tree to baffle the dogs. The experienced dogs know this, and they will move from tree to tree, hoping that they are not “barking up the wrong tree.”

Well, this animal did move from tree to tree, and it continued to do so for nearly twenty miles. The dogs ran from the base of each tree, baying with all their might. But running such an animal through the tree tops was something they were quite unaccustomed to, and soon the dogs tired. They were of no use as monkey hounds.

Nothing was heard of the West Virginia black monkey after that. It probably either froze to death in the cold winter or was killed by a dog or other predator.

My grandpa never knew its species, but my guess is that it was a spider monkey– possibly a black or red-headed spider monkey.  It also may have been a black-headed spider monkey, but the description of the animal and its behavior suggests that it definitely was a spider monkey. Spider monkeys are very fast in the trees and could cover that distance from the treetops rather quickly. Further, my grandpa described this monkey as lanky with a long curled tail, and it stood up on its hind legs and looked at him. That is a common spider monkey behavior. They were also commonly imported as pets, even though they are very intelligent and hard to keep. It makes sense that someone would have released one into the forest after discovering how hard it was to care for.

So for a very brief time, the West Virginia hills had a large black monkey running through them. And for at least one day, the crazy stories at the toolhouse were true– there was a monkey in our midst.

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